Abstract: Networks of no-take marine reserves (NTMRs) are widely advocated for preserving exploited fish stocks and for conserving biodiversity. We used underwater visual survey data of coral reef fish and benthic communities to quantify the short- to medium-term (5 to 30 years) ecological effects of the establishment of NTMRs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP). The density, mean length and biomass of principal fishery species, coral trout (Plectropomus spp.), were consistently greater in NTMRs than on fished reefs over both the short- and medium-term. However, there were no clear or consistent differences in the structure of fish or benthic assemblages, non-target fish abundance, fish species richness or coral cover between NTMR and fished reefs. There was no indication that the displacement and concentration of fishing effort had reduced populations of coral trout on fished reefs. A severe tropical cyclone impacted many survey reefs during the study, causing similar declines in coral cover and fish density on both NTMR and fished reefs. However, coral trout biomass declined only on fished reefs following the cyclone. The GBRMP is performing as expected for the protection of fished stocks and biodiversity in a developed country where fishing is not excessive and targets a narrow range of species. Although NTMRs cannot directly protect coral reefs from regional-scale acute disturbance, impacted NTMR reefs supported higher biomass of key fishery-targeted species, following a strong tropical cyclone and should provide valuable sources of larvae that will enhance population recovery and long-term persistence.
Bio: Mike is an Experimental Scientist on the Long Term Monitoring Team at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, where he has worked since 2004. Prior to that he ran a marine biological consultancy and worked at Fisheries Research in Australia’s Northern Territory. Mike received a BSc Hons from JCU in 1995 and subsequently worked with Prof Geoff Jones investigating self-recruitment in coral reef fishes. Since moving to AIMS, Mike has published over 30 reports and peer-reviewed journal articles. His main research interests lie in reef fish ecology, the effect of disturbances and marine protected areas on coral reef communities and the contribution of various groups of fishes to reef resilience.